West Virginia’s ex-health officer, state senator catch virus

CHARLESTON, WV (AP)-West Virginia’s former public health director and the majority leader of the state senate said they have tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Cathy Slemp, who the governor forced out of her role as state health officer in June, wrote in an op-ed that she was quarantining in her child’s old bedroom after contracting the virus.

The Republican majority leader of the state senate, Dr. Tom Takubo, also said on Tuesday he had tested positive after experiencing aches coming on last Thursday. The legislature has been out of session, with only a few hearings being held recently, and is scheduled to return on Jan. 13.

Gov. Jim Justice on Monday said he wants to ramp up testing in order to catch more asymptomatic cases as more counties on the state’s color-coded map turn red, the most severe category for virus spread.

Putnam, Kanawha and Mingo counties were red as of Tuesday, meaning they have 25 or more cases per 100,000 residents. Four counties are in the orange category, and fewer counties in the state remain green, where there are 3 or fewer cases and schools are allowed to open as normal.

Slemp resigned from her position on June 24 after Justice demanded she quit amid a rise in outbreaks. In an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Slemp wrote on Monday that residents need to take the virus spread more seriously in order to stem outbreaks, instead of the governor tweaking the state’s color-coded map, which he has done multiple times this month.

“We have agency as individuals and communities,” she wrote, adding people should wear masks and businesses should consider stricter precautions. “Do not wait for those above to fix it.”

Slemp and Takubo both told news outlets their symptoms began very mildly. Slemp told WCHS/WVAH TV that she was “feeling better.”

Takubo said his family tested negative. “I’ve been extremely careful,” Takubo, who co-owns a clinic in Charleston that has served critical coronavirus patients, said in a radio interview on Metro News. “I’m not too sure how I got it.”

Officials have reported more than 14,300 cases of COVID-19 in the state and at least 317 deaths have been caused by the virus.

Takubo said he expects the spread of the virus to continue in the state.

“West Virginia is getting hit hard now because we didn’t get hit at all several months ago,” he said. “All that does it leave us vulnerable for now.”